During Monday’s wiretapping hearing led by House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, members of the intelligence committee listened to testimony from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers about Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s controversial wiretapping claim involving former U.S. President Barack Obama.
Chairman Nunes, a Republican, said that it is important for the public to have access to “credible unclassified facts” and to clear the air regarding “unsubstantiated media reports.”
Nunes explained the Putin regime has a long history of aggression against other countries and the Kremlin is waging an “international disinformation campaign” through the RT propaganda network which he said “traffics in anti-American conspiracy theories” rivaling the extravagant untruths of Soviet era Pravda.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat, and ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Russian intrusion against the U.S. may have begun as early as 2015 when Russian intelligence services “launched a series of spear fishing attacks designed to penetrate the computers of a broad array of Washington based Democratic and Republican party organizations, think tanks and other entities.”
Schiff said that the attacks continued through the winter of 2016, although months earlier, beginning in mid-2016, Russians stole data and used platforms such as D.C. leaks in WikiLeaks to dump the documents for the purpose of damaging Putin’s despised candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Schiff admitted, “there’s still a lot we don’t know” and its unclear if the Russians had the help of U.S. citizens, including Trump campaign associates, but it’s clear that in July and August 2016 the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton.
Schiff reported that in early July, Carter Page, a candidate Trump had selected as one of his national security advisors, traveled to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign and gave a speech that was critical of the U.S. and other western countries for what he claimed was a “hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.”
Schiff said that Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, who is well respected in the U.S. intelligence community, reported that his Russian sources informed him that Carter Page held a meeting with Igor Sechin, CEO of Russian gas company Rosneft, and former KGB agent who has close ties with Putin, and Page was offered brokerage fees on a deal that involves 19 percent share of the gas company.
Reuters reported that the sale of a 19.5 percent share of Rosneft later takes place with “unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees” while Steele’s Russian sources notify him that “the campaign has offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability like WikiLeaks.”
Schiff said the hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump administration foreign policy that places less emphasis on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO member countries for not paying their fair share.
Schiff explained that when the Republican Convention occurred in July, Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who was on the payroll of Pro Russian- Ukrainian interests, attended the convention along with Carter Page and Russian Ambassador Kislyac, and National Security Campaign Chair and now attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his confirmation hearings.
Before the Republican Convention started, the Republican Party platform is altered and includes the removal of a section that supports the provision of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, a move that would contradict Russian interests.
After the Republican Convention ended, stolen emails detrimental to Clinton appeared on WikiLeaks and a hacker who uses the moniker, Guccifer 2.0, claimed responsibility for hacking the Democratic National Committee and giving the documents to WikiLeaks.
However, a leading private cyber security firms that includes Crowdstrike, Mandiant and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and concluded “with high certainty” that it was the work of APT 28 and APT 29 who are known to be Russian intelligence services.
Schiff said the U.S. intelligence community later confirmed that “the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front.”
FBI Director Comey Testifies
FBI Director Comey said that the FBI is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election including the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any “coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Director Comey admitted that because it is an open ongoing investigation and remains classified, he can’t disclose more about what the FBI is doing and “whose conduct we are examining.”
Comey denied that Russia cyber actors changed vote tallies.
House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes questioned Director Comey about illegal leaks to the media involving Trump administration officials in which he admitted that it violates the Espionage Act, criminalizing the disclosure of information concerning the communication and intelligence activities of the United States.
Concerning President Trump’s controversial wiretapping claims that he made via Twitter on March 4th about former U.S. President Barack Obama while offering zero evidence, FBI Director Comey replied, “I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”
Comey added, “The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.”
Comey denied that President Obama could unilaterally order a wiretap of anyone and confirmed that there wasn’t any evidence that anyone else in the Obama administration made such a request.
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